Agents Unto Themselves
Elder Cree-L Kofford
Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional
September 17, 2002
It is probable that among the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the most oft-quoted passage in all of scripture is that found in the first chapter of the book of Moses where the purpose and design of our Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus Christ is succinctly set forth as follows:
For behold, this is my work and my glory--to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39).
In this simple scripture rests the reason for and the need of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, which, as most of you know, brought with it the free gift of resurrection and life everlasting to all mankind, and made possible the higher gift of life eternal, or life in the presence of our Father in Heaven for those who qualified for this awe-inspiring blessing.
It is around this central issue that the forces of good and evil have drawn their battle lines; lines which predate the history of this world and which tore apart the family of our Heavenly Father in the premortal world. Our Father's plan, announced by Jesus in the premortal council and supported by upraised hand by each of us who are here today, recognized the hallowedness of individual agency or right of choice and was framed in such a way as to encourage, motivate, and inspire each of the followers of that plan to make the decision to become like God. The archenemy offered his reward at the price of that very agency. It was a war commenced in heaven, fought for the souls of men not the control of nations. Rather than seeking to march his dark forces across the countries of men, he sought instead to march his ideas and his entreaties across their souls.
That war goes on today with as much fervor as it did then. As the battles ensue, we must each be guided by the powerful expression of empowerment contained in the 58th section of the Doctrine and Covenants which states "For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves" (D&C 58:28).
All that God can do for us He has done and is doing, but inherent in the plan of life is the fact that we have responsibility for ourselves. We are indeed an agent unto ourselves.
Of course, the archenemy, Lucifer, who is as real as anything you will ever experience, understands this all too well. Remember, he was with us in the pre-existence and there, by the power of his personality, the grace of his charm, good looks, and dynamic leadership, he was able to convince one out of every three of our Heavenly Father's children to follow him. I take it that this unfortunate result occurred during a time when Jesus, along with every other major leader any of us could name including Adam, Noah, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Alma, Joseph, Brigham, and a host of others were doing everything they knew how to persuade those who followed Lucifer not to do so. Never underestimate Lucifer's powers. He exists today with full knowledge of what went on in the pre-existence. Again I counsel: never underestimate Lucifer's powers. Unlike you and me who have had a veil of forgetfulness drawn across our memories of those sacred times, Lucifer remembers them vividly. He knows, as well as anyone, that God is our Eternal Father and that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. But that knowledge was never translated into fulfilling his responsibility to be an agent unto himself. Because of that he failed, and he seeks now to cause you to fail.
Since the beginning, Lucifer has been there tempting and teaching through deceit and deception, in an effort to draw every one of God's children from the paths of righteousness. You are no exception. I would not find it improbable if someone were to tell me that Lucifer called together those who served with him (perhaps we might appropriately refer to them as Lucifer's own high council) to reason and to plan a course to bring about the downfall of each one of God's children. In that early plan, it is my conviction that Lucifer sought to destroy men rather than women, knowing that with the destruction of men went the destruction of the holy priesthood, and with the destruction of the priesthood went much of the power of revelation, the power to perform God's work upon the earth, and particularly, the power to conduct the sacred sealing ordinance in the temple.
And so, Lucifer, from as far back as time records, used pornography, alcohol, tobacco, dishonesty, greed, and power to destroy men. That plan has been worked for thousands of years, but was only marginally successful. I believe that is because there was a fatal flaw in Lucifer's plan. He forgot about the power of womanhood. Throughout that period, as men were bombarded with all of that Lucifer's arsenal held, the vast majority of womanhood remained as faithful daughters of God. They were, by their nature, pure, clean, uplifting, strengthening, and building. Where men would falter, women would encourage. Where men would doubt, women would believe. And in the process of this relationship, women inspired men to be able to withstand the entreaties of Lucifer, and thus his efforts brought only marginal return.
I am fully confident that this lack of success on his part was a source of great dissatisfaction to him. I do not find it difficult to believe that he was frustrated, perhaps even discouraged as he saw his limited progress. Somewhere in this process the idea must have struck him to reevaluate his technique. This produced a noticeable change in Lucifer's plan. Sometime not long ago, a new strategic plan must have been announced by Lucifer. At the center of that strategic plan was womanhood. Someone convinced Lucifer that the mistake which he had been making was his failure to concentrate on womanhood, and so a careful plan must have been devised. A plan which would cause women to become dissatisfied with the womanhood of old and seek to substitute for it womanhood as defined by Lucifer and his forces. In place of modesty came immodesty. In place of superior standards came mediocre standards. In place of lifting and building all of mankind came becoming like mankind. Wifehood and motherhood became phrases to describe duties not honors. Devotion to home and family was replaced by the desire for status and power. A job, an office, and a title replaced the nurturing of children, the encouragement of husband, and the honor of motherhood.
Anyone who has lived any length of time at all knows that Lucifer's new plan is vastly superior to his old one. It is that plan which has caused so many of our young women to dress in such a way as to be destructive not only to their own morals but to the morals of young men. Clothing that is too tight, too short, too low, too thin, and too little has in all too many cases become the standard by which young women judge appropriateness of their dress. As young women have fallen from the pedestal, young men have lost much of that which caused them to want to rise to be on the pedestal. As women have lowered their standards, men followed. Immodesty in conduct, coarseness of language, the loss of common courtesy, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, dishonesty, and pornography are gaining a greater foothold each day of our lives. Together, more and more of our youth are wallowing in the dark abyss of spiritual bankruptcy.
But you know something, I have great faith in the young women and young men of the Church. Everywhere I go I find them standing for what is right. Modesty is still popular. Good manners are still to be found and Christ-like behavior is still the model. All over our young people are saying, "Enough is enough." I recently was told of a group of young women who simply got tired of trying to buy modest clothing. They arranged a meeting with the buyer for the local store. Their message was simple: "We don't like what you carry. Either buy clothes that meet our standards or we're going somewhere else even if we have to make our own." I understand the buyer and the store management listened. Another group, this one consisting of young men and young women, decided that they had had all of the improper high school dances they wanted. Their message to the school administration was clear: "Bring the dances up to our standards or we'll start holding our own." Large numbers of young men have returned to the standards of conduct the world has now abandoned. They treat the young women in their lives with courtesy and respect -- and the young women are doing the same. Things are changing and it's young people like you who are changing them. That's why I have faith in you and in your tomorrows.
The second part of Lucifer's new strategy was, I believe, equally ingenious. He determined that he would try to destroy our individual self-worth. If he can make each of us feel like we are not as good as others or that we have limited worth, and if he could sow seeds of self-doubt and worthlessness, he could gain tremendous power over us. So, hand in hand with his plan to destroy womanhood, he has also moved to destroy feelings of self-worth among our young people. He knows that it's not easy being a young person today. I suspect you've all been told how fun high school was and how enjoyable your college years will be. But have you ever noticed that those who tell you these things are those who don't have to prepare for the exams, do the homework, or sit through the classes? Of course there's a great deal of fun and enjoyment, but anyone who's been where you are knows that there's also a great deal of pressure and responsibility. Just the process of finding out who you are, where you fit, and with whom you fit is a responsibility that most who are older have long forgotten you bear. Even our school systems, as good as they are and as much as I admire them, work in many ways to undermine self-worth. Where else in life do we judge and identify weaknesses, issue weekly test results (which by the way if we're lucky, the girl in front of you gets to call out for the entire class to hear), quarterly report cards, and notes home to parents? Where else in life do we compare with the same unrelenting manner that we do in our schools?
Everything is relatively easy if you're a starting player on the school's winning basketball team, the quarterback on the football team, a cheerleader, the most beautiful girl in school, or the most popular student on campus. But what if you're not? What if you're just a normal, average, young man or woman? You know the kind - a 2.5 GPA, one who studies hard to get a C+, a little overweight or underweight, shy, and a little unsure of yourself. The kind who wonders: Does anyone even know I'm here? Does anyone care? If you're in that group - which is most of us - when was the last time the cheerleaders led a cheer for you, or you saw your picture on the front page of the school paper or had your favorite teacher write your parents to tell them how great it is to have you in his class?
Have you ever wondered how well your parents would do if we issued a periodic report card to them on the size of their house or the importance of your dad's job, your mother's physical condition, or your dad's athletic ability? How do you think they would feel if we erected a neighborhood marquee with the name of "outstanding father" or "greatest mother" on it and their names never appeared. I wonder what would happen, even at this marvelous institution, if we had a teacher evaluation program where the students graded the teachers. We could even send home low-grade notices to their wives or husbands. To make it even more fun, suppose we list the teachers from the best down to the worst in order and post that on the end of the library shelving every quarter for all to see. How about pictures in the local newspapers of teachers who the students say aren't "cutting it." Imagine what that kind of constant comparison would do to their self-worth.
And yet, in a way, that's about what we do to each one of you. Now understand that I'm not critical of what we do; that isn't my purpose in bringing it up. I'm merely attempting to help you understand what's happening so that you can protect yourself from it. Understand that as marvelous as our educational system is, it is a system with flaws. I don't know who it was that said that your ability to recite stanzas from Homer's Odyssey made you smarter than if you knew how to tear apart a diesel engine or build a cabinet, but somewhere in our society someone did. We started early to help you know you didn't measure up. You remember the reading groups -- redbirds and bluebirds (and everyone knows that the bluebirds were the dumbells) - and it's been going on ever since.
For example, the world's ideal young woman today is somewhere between 5'4" and 5'7" in height, weighs between 100 and 105 pounds and has a perfectly proportioned figure. Do you realize that in pioneer times a girl fitting that description would have been considered too thin and too weak to make a good wife? How could she possibly help pull a handcart, yoke the oxen, or plow the field? So today, the femininity which the world admires would in times past have caused you to be labeled a "loser." I do not mention this to suggest the superiority of one measurement over another, but merely to help you understand the fallibility of such measurements. Do not let what the world tells you is important determine how you feel about yourself. Do not let others set standards by which you are then judged and found wanting. God loves you. He cares for you, each of you, individually. Whether you are an honor student or not, whether you are an athlete or not, whether you are popular or not, He cares about you just because you are you and you have the divine within you. Hold on to that divine. Do not let Lucifer's plan aided unwittingly by mankind draw you to the conclusion that you are less than you really are. Know this: I love you, the prophet loves you. The Lord Jesus Christ loves you, and your Father in Heaven loves you. After all, you are his child.
Two thousand years ago two of the most profound questions ever asked were posed to the Lord Jesus Christ as He stood before the great Sanhedrin on trial under Jewish law. The semi-circular seating arrangement which historians say was used by the Sanhedrin would have been behind the Savior; its 72 seats filled with that portion of the Sanhedrin who were then present. At either end were two additional seats, filled by scribes, who recorded the events of that fateful night. At the judge's chair on a raised platform in front of the Sanhedrin and the prisoner at bar sat Caiaphas, the infamous chief priest. The assembled body had expended considerable effort in attempting to find witnesses who would testify against the Lord and Master. It was evident to all that their efforts had failed. At that fateful moment, Caiaphas, feigning piety by rending his garment, stood from his seat and in what I perceive to be a loud and profane voice proclaimed: "I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God" (Matthew 26:63).
Perhaps not even Caiaphas understood the import of the question which he as the supreme judge of the supreme judicial body of the land had just uttered. Inherent in its complex structure were indeed two questions: (1) are you the one who has been called to lead the Jews out of bondage from the hated Romans, and (2) are you the Son of God. The record is silent as to the demeanor of the witness or the circumstance of His response, but it cries aloud with the essence of His answer. In words or import, the simple proclamation still rings in our ears: "I am" (Mark 14:62; see also Matthew 26:64).
Perhaps not even Caiaphas was prepared for the sudden victory which seemed to be his. The pretense of meeting Jewish law had now been fulfilled. The testimony long sought from third parties had now been supplied by the defendant himself. The long-held plan to put the Savior to death was possible. The now more confident voice of Caiaphas filled the night air: "He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. What think ye?" (Matthew 26:65-66; see also Mark 14:63-63). The assembled greatness of the Jews marked indelibly upon their own foreheads the duplicity with which they acted as pretenders to impartial justice when they answered as one voice: "He is guilty of death" (Matthew26:66; see also Mark 14:64).
In time, the Son of God would be led as a prisoner from the judgement hall of the Jews to the palace of Pilate and from there to the place of the skull. In the hours before, He had entered the spot called the Garden of Gethsemane. There He fell upon His face and poured out His soul unto His Father and to our Father. For there in the Garden of Gethsemane, in a way unknown and unknowable to the finite mind, the Son of God wrought the Atonement of all mankind. "Father, if it be Thy will let this cup pass from me" was His plaintive plea. "Nevertheless, Thy will not mine be done" was His humble addendum.
There in the privacy of that sacred place began the most transcendent event in the history of the world. There in a few hours time, the Son of God, in mortal body met and defeated another son of God who had given himself to pride and selfish ambition and sought to destroy that for which the father of both stood. The mission of the mortal Christ was to fulfill that of which Amulek had spoken some one hundred years earlier when he said:
For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice. (Alma 34:10)
It was indeed an infinite and an eternal sacrifice, the sacrifice of a God. From that sacrifice came the resurrection of every man and woman who has ever lived or will ever live, all as a free gift, given as a birthright to the spirit offspring of a loving Heavenly Father.
How did this miracle of miracles occur? The science of the process has not yet been revealed, but the blessings of its occurrence were manifest that first Easter morn with the loving words of the risen Christ, spoken to his ardent follower when he addressed her simply as "Mary."Our desire to know more about those sacred moments is understandable. What did He feel? How did he react? What did He say? What did He do? To these and countless other questions we have only limited answers. One of those is autobiographical in nature, dictated by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself in describing that ordeal, and is found in the 19th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. The Lord reflected upon that moment with these words:
For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit--and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink...(D&C 18:16-18).
An additional inspired glimpse into those sacred moments is giving by Orson Hyde, an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, called to a mission, one portion of which was to dedicate the Holy Land to the preaching of the gospel. In 1841 Orson sat on the hill opposite the Garden of Gethsemane. He wrote in his journal, and I quote:
"Is that small enclosure in the valley of Kedron, where the boughs of those lonely olives are waving their green foliage so gracefully in the soft and gentle breeze, really the garden of Gethsemane, where powers infernal poured the flood of hells dark gloom around the princely head of the immortal Redeemer? Oh, yes! ...There, there is the place where the Son of the Virgin bore our sins and carried our sorrows...." End of quote. (A Sketch, Times and Seasons, vol. 3 (November 1841-October 1842), Vol. 3 No. 17, 1 July 1842, 851.)
To each of us who ponder our worth, who wonder if the God in yonder heavens knows we live, who wonder does He care, I offer this simple rejoinder: He bore your sins and He carried your sorrows.
From the cruel halls of the Jews' court of justice to the weakness of the temporal leader Pilate, the Savior passed protected by the assurance of His divine sonship. His ascension up the hill carrying the cross has been depicted in hundreds of pictures and has been felt at one time or another by each of us. There on the cross He sealed the great atoning sacrifice and crowned His life, His work, and His mission with His blood. His hands still quivering from the nails brutally pounded through His flesh, and with His feet still trembling from pain, He uttered in simple majesty: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
To His mother who stood at the base of His cross, tenderly He created the stewardship of John: "Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother!" (John 19:26-27). And to His Father as He voluntarily gave His life, the simple pronouncement: "It is finished" (John 19:30). "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46).
Like the crescendo which accompanies the closing strains of a magnificent oratorio, the heavens wept. A veil was drawn over the sun. The earth shook. In the inspired writings of Eliza R Snow it is described thus:
He died, and at the awful sight
The sun in shame withdrew its light!
Earth trembled, and all nature sighed
In dread response, "A God has died!"
And with that death came resurrection and everlasting life for all. What is of greater importance to us seated here today than to know that we have come within the pale of the doctrines of eternal life and to understand that the most sublime blessing of the atonement is to open the opportunity for those who would live worthily and partake of those ordinances which are required, to gain eternal life. Life with God the Father, life like God the Father, life in His presence with His glorious blessings and rulership, life in family circles, life with a God's power of procreation. All of these are the gifts of inheritance for those who worthily abide the doctrine.
This is the Jesus Christ of whom I testify. This is the Jesus Christ of whom I am an especial witness. This is the Jesus Christ whose doctrines course through my body, whose life has changed my life, and whose death has given me the hope of eternal life.
I plead with you to understand the doctrines of God's plan of life and to live them in this time of your life.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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